Bryn Mawr Classical Review 95.07.10


Jean Gascou, Un Codex Fiscal Hermopolite (P.Sorb. II 69). American Studies in Papyrology 32. Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1994. Pp. xxiv + 289, pls. XXX. $74.95. ISBN 1-55540-936-9.


Reviewed by John Whitehorne, University of Queensland 9j.whitehorne@mailbox.uq.oz.au).

In what is a final version of his thesis for the Doctorat d'Etat supervised by J. Schwartz and presented at the University of Strasbourg II in 1986, Gascou here offers us the first complete edition of a very large fiscal codex, written by the public scribes in the municipal tax office of seventh century Hermopolis Magna in Middle Egypt. The document, which gives a running account of tax payments primarily in wheat, was purchased for the Sorbonne by Jouguet in 1896, but its fragmentary state has meant that until now it has evaded publication. It is therefore no small part of G.'s achievement that he has not only reconstructed the book itself but has succeeded in making joins with other fragments of the work, acquired by the Strasbourg collection in 1906. This, then, is not merely an edition with commentary.

With 66 leaves, each c. 36 cm H x 24 cm W, bearing 2 columns each side with an average of 30 lines per page, this was indeed a 'grand livre' as we learn from G.'s description of it (Première Partie: Description paléographique, pp. 1-17). But its importance extends well beyond the palaeographical. Since these accounts were made in a 7th indiction, which G. argues (p. 17) must be either AD 618/9 or 633/4, the text stands at the very end of the Byzantine period, coming only a few years before the Arab Conquest of AD 640/1. As this period is not otherwise well documented papyrologically, this text has considerable historical interest as well.

In the second part of his work (Description interne, pp. 19-56) G. addresses topics including the organisation of the ledger, the identities of the tax payers and their agents, and other matters concerned with technical vocabulary and onomastics, before he turns to the historical significance of P.Sorb. II 69 (Troisième Partie, pp. 57-85). Of particular interest here is the contribution which the codex makes to our knowledge of the Christian church and its personnel in Hermopolis and its environs. For example, of 29 churches mentioned in the codex 16 are new; there are 41 monasteries mentioned, of which 18 are new; there are, too, secular brotherhoods or philoponeia (9: 5 new) and other pious foundations such as hostels and hospitals, including special hospices for those afflicted with leprosy. In short, P.Sorb. II 69 now provides papyrological confirmation of the status of Hermopolis as perhaps the principal centre of Egyptian Christianity after Alexandria itself.

In the fourth part G. presents the Text itself (pp. 87-209), with Notes (pp. 211-255), and the customary papyrological Indexes (pp. 257-289: also a useful index of other texts discussed or corrected). Since the pages of the codex contained 2 columns, the text has had to be printed 'transversa charta' to accommodate them. But that does not excuse the type size used, which is minuscule to the point of illegibility. I feel that G. has been poorly served by the publisher here; the amount of white space still remaining on even the most complete pages, e.g., 11, 16, 25, suggests that a larger size of type could have been accommodated, even if that had meant a few extra pages over all. I also feel that, although many of the codex's leaves are incomplete, enough writing remains on enough of them to have merited the provision of a translation; even though G. provides a table of fractions on p. 16, there will nevertheless be potential users of the book unfamiliar with the system of arithmetic used in accounts of this kind, who will therefore find problems with the Greek.

I have also to note that the Plates, which conclude the book, leave something to be desired. There is a reasonable selection (30 in all) but many of the photos are not clear enough to check readings or to confirm G.'s distinction of the 3 different hands which he identifies in the text (p. 13). Also most of the plates lack a scale; it is not until Pl. XXVI that it becomes clear that the photos have been reduced to 2/3rd size.

But I do not want to end on a negative note. To elucidate a text of this size and complexity with such skill and learning (vide the Bibliography in the Avant-Propos, pp. xv-xxiv) is a major achievement for which Gascou is to be heartily congratulated by all his papyrological colleagues, and indeed by all who are interested in Late Antiquity or the development of Christianity: the late Jacques Schwartz would have been rightly proud of his pupil and successor.